After activists in the “Defund the Police” movement hastened the exodus of hundreds of police officers, officials in New Orleans have now established a violent crime task force as the new year kicks off with a wave of shooting incidents and a smaller police force struggling to cope with the bloodshed.
Mayor LaToya Contrell made the announcement on Jan. 11 and said city officials will use a “data-driven approach” to reducing crime.
The task force includes members of multiple government agencies and will be headed by Tyrell Morris, Executive Director of Emergency Communications for Orleans Parish.
Members of the task force will “develop strategies coordinated amongst all government and community stakeholders for the prevention of violent crime, the apprehension of violent offenders, and ensure comprehensive wrap-around services for provided to those impacted by incidents of violence,” according to an executive order from Contrell.
By September of 2022, New Orleans displaced St. Louis as the U.S. murder capital, chalking up 52 homicides per 100,000 residents. By year-end, the city’s homicide rate climbed to 70 per 100,000.
Just weeks into 2023, both residents and local authorities are voicing concerns about the escalating crime and the ability of police to protect citizens.
“I woke up and it sounded like an automatic weapon with a constant barrage of bullets,” Lionel Oliver, Central City resident told WGNO, a local ABC affiliate, referencing an incident where five people were shot and two killed.
“I heard anywhere from 20 to 30 shots, just mass chaos,” he added. “I can tell they were shot. They were limping, some were laying on the ground and people were screaming and crying.”
According to WGNO, the shooting occurred during a violent week that saw more than 12 people shot and wounded in three separate incidents.
Rafael Goyeneche of the city’s Metropolitan Crime Commission told the news outlet the city was “off to another horrific start to 2023.”
He says the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has lost 400 officers (down from 1,300 to 900) since 2019, making it difficult to address the excess crime.
“The Police Department doesn’t have the numbers to address the violent crime rate,” he said.
The mass departure of police officers came as protestors and activists within the “Defund the Police” movement campaigned to have significant portions of the police’s $193 million budget redirected toward education, social services, and other community institutions the activists said were plagued by “disparities.”
In late summer 2022, NOPD launched new initiatives to try and boost recruitment, including pay raises, hiring or retention bonuses, and student loan assistance. The department is also loosening qualification standards by dropping hiring criteria that would normally disqualify applicants, such as a history of drug use and low credit scores.